Monday, December 8, 2014

Albany Pelagic Trip Report - 15 November 2014

Summary: Overall, this was a disappointing trip, particularly for the pelagic veterans, as both species variety and bird activity in general were low, likely due to the calm conditions. The highlight was the large number of Wandering Albatross, more than we have seen on any previous Albany pelagic trip. However, the number of tubenose species recorded was a record low for Albany trips (seven or so, depending on the specific identity of the Wandering Albatrosses seen).

Immature Wandering-type Albatross. The plumage of this bird suggests it could be any of exulans, gibsoni or dabbenena

Participants: Alan Collins (Organiser), John Graff (Organiser), Sue Abbotts, Hes Anderson, Prue Anderson, Plaxy Barratt, Martin Cake, Xenia Dennett, Stewart Ford, Clive Garland, Phil Knott, John Litherland, Dan Mantle, Ian Mayer, Sarah Randell, Chris Sanderson, Roy Teale, Keith Wilcox

Conditions: Seas were forecast up to 1m, with a swell of 1.5-2m throughout the day, which promised relatively flat conditions. Winds were forecast variable up to 10knts. Conditions were reasonably close to the forecast, with very flat and calm conditions through the middle of the day

We left Emu Point a little after 0700 after a brief delay. A pair of White-bellied Sea-Eagles was seen as we left the harbour, but there was almost no bird activity as we crossed King George Sound. As we approached the heads, the first Flesh-footed Shearwaters started to be seen, along with an Arctic Jaeger. After clearing the heads, the numbers of Flesh-footed Shearwaters increased, but there was little else to be seen. Eventually, the first Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and Shy Albatross were seen, and as we approached the shelf edge, the first Great-winged Petrel made an appearance.

We stopped the boat in 800m of water and started to chum. The Flesh-footed Shearwaters and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross gathered immediately, and were soon joined by an immature Black-browed Albatross which made several circuits of the boat. Occasional Great-winged Petrels and Shy Albatross also made passes, and after 15 minutes or so the call went out for a Wandering Albatross. This made a circuit of the boat but didn’t stay around for too long. However, a steady stream of different Wandering Albatross made passes of the boat, with up to three present at one time. A variety of plumages were on show, and at least two taxa are thought to have been present: exulans (Snowy Albatross) and gibsoni (Gibson’s Albatross), with some possibility of dabbenena (Tristan Albatross) and a single candidate for antipodensis (Antipodean Albatross). Unfortunately, difficulties in identification make it a challenge to assign many individuals to a specific taxon with any degree of certainty. We aim to post further discussion of the individual Wanderers photographed on this trip to the blog when we can. A Bridled Tern was also seen in the mid-distance, along with a Crested Tern some time later, a sure sign of calm conditions!

Young Black-browed Albatross.

Immature Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross. Note the relatively slender, all black bill.

Aside from the steady flow of Wanderers, there was little else of interest so a little before midday we moved deeper, setting up in 1000m of water and drifting to over 1200m. Unfortunately, the wind had died almost completely and bird activity was reduced to almost nil, with Flesh-footed Shearwaters and a few Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross sitting around the boat but almost no birds taking to the air in the calm conditions. The occasional Wandering and Shy Albatross, and Great-winged Petrel made passes, but the most excitment probably came from manoeuvring the boat to retrieve some rubbish from the water. After an hour or so, we moved shallower to an area of upwelling at the head of the canyon but found nothing different with activity remaining low, so we headed for home at about 1330.

Wandering-type Albatross. A potential dabbenena (Tristan Albatross) candidate. Note the proportionally small bill (compare with the bird below) - dabbenena has the smallest bill of the Wandering complex, but there is little difference from gibsoni

Wandering-type Albatross. The proportionally long and heavy bill and extensively white plumage suggest exulans (Snowy Albatross)

The return trip was largely uneventful, with the first Australasian Gannets of the trip seen just outside the heads, along with a large raft of Flesh-footed Shearwaters. We stopped briefly at Breaksea Island to look at the New Zealand Fur Seals which haul out on the rocks there, and docked at about 1630. As always, many thanks go to all the participants, who make these trips possible, and to Tony and Fred from Spinners Charters for their usual assistance.

Wandering-type Albatross. The dark cap, paler back and collar, and pale belly are typical of antipodensis (in the strict sense) but the cap and ear coverts may not be solidly dark enough to be certain.

Species List [Total Count (Maximum no. seen at one time)]
Wandering Albatross [sp] 20 (3) – (most exulans or gibsoni, final count to be updated based on photos)
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 20 (6)
Black-browed Albatross 2 (1)
Shy Albatross 10 (3)
Great-winged Petrel 20 (3)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 300 (100)
Arctic Jaeger 1 (1)
Bridled Tern 2 (1)
Crested Tern 5 (2)
Australasian Gannet 2 (1)

New Zealand Fur Seal 8 (8)

Flesh-footed Shearwater.

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